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tv   Oral Histories  CSPAN  September 11, 2016 12:00pm-1:02pm EDT

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from -- with historians, the pentagon and in the skies above washington, d.c. next, accounting the drama in the sky after pilots she describes why the f-16s initially took off unarmed, and what she was prepared to do to take down terrorist. is one hour.w >> major penney, the morning of september 11, 2011, how did the day begin for you? >> it was a normal day, as far as we were concerned. we had just participated in a red flag deployment the previous two weeks and had returned
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back home that early -- that saturday. join the c-span conversation -- like us on facebook, follow us on twitter. so the commanders had given the vast ma yortjority of the full-time force, which was really not that many folks at the time, a pass for monday to be able to reconnect with their families. so tuesday was really the first time that we were kind of getting back to work. all of our traditionals who had been deployed were back off doing their normalcyville cy rilivilian jobs, so we were really just kind of planning the week. so that morning was just an average morning, getting up, eating my cheerios, driving in to work. it was really just very normal. >> at about a quarter to 9:00 when the first reports came of a plane hitting the first of the two world trade centers, what was your reaction?
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>> i was in the middle of a long-range scheduling meeting with the other five full-timers there at the fighter squadron. so we were planning out the week and really planning out the month as well, looking at what our training priorities would be, our check ride priorities, looking at our range times, transitioning the jets into a new phase of training and a new phase of flights. so we were working out the administration details of getting back to our training rhythm when a knock came at the door and an unlisted person opened up the door and poked their head in and said, hey, somebody flew into the world trade center. we all looked at each other, we looked outside the windows, and as everyone remembers, in washington, d.c., it was a crystalline september morning. blue skies, very clear day. it was lovely. we all kind of looked at each other really puzzled because normally the weather patterns in d.c.
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are not that different from what they are in new york. and we all kind of laughed and were like, wow, what kind of bozo really porked his instrument approach going into new york? we thought it was just some small airplane, a general aviation, that really had just made a terrible mistake coming down the hudson river. so we laughed a little about it because we had no concept of the magnitude of what had actually occurred. and we really didn't understand that it wasn't a cessna 172 which, realistically, would probably dent the building, hardly cause any damage, as opposed to what it truly was. so we did not understand. >> so where were you when you saw the pictures of this gaping hole on the side of the world trade center? >> well, after we got the first word, we went back to our meeting. we continued to discuss and plan out the week and the flying schedule as normal, because we did not understand or have any
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way to comprehend. i mean, there was no further information regarding how serious the situation was. and so it wasn't until the second aircraft struck the second world trade center when our unlisted folks came in and said, hey, a second plane hit the world trade center. it was on purpose. then the meeting obviously immediately dissolved and we all rushed to go and actually see what was being reported on the media and go look at the television. and that was when, i think, all of us really understood at a visceral level that the world had changed. >> so at that time in 2001, what was your job? what were your responsibilities? >> i was a brand new first lieutenant. i had just gone to the fire squadron in january of 2001 is. i was the training manager. i was in charge of managing and tracking the combat training that we do. it's continuation training for all of our fighter pilots to ensure that we're ready and qualified in all the different events that we need to be able
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to do, whether or not that's air to air dog fighting, air to air intercepts, that was part of my job to do that. so that's what we were doing during that meeting. i was also a brand new wingman, so i was still a young fighter pilot learning my trade. >> where is andrews in connection with washington, d.c. and were you stationed there in 2001? >> i was stationed in andrews. that's where the d.c. air national guard is located at. so the 121st fire squadron is on the east side of the base, which is really only about eight nautical miles as the crow flies from the pentagon. >> so walk us through the morning after the second plane hit the second tower.
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what was happening? who were you talking to? what was the reaction at andrews among your colleagues? >> there was -- initially there was a lot of confusion because if you can remember, you know, ten years ago, there was really -- there were no dispense units. the air dispense units which had been stood up and had used to populate the whole continental united states to defend our sovereign soil from the soviet bear, when the soviet union collapsed, that had been drawn down significantly throughout the '90s. so my unit which once upon a time with f-105s used to sit alert in an air sovereignty mission for norad and for stare force was no longer a part of that air mission. we were designed to go to war, not necessarily to protect american soil. so as a result, our chain of command didn't go up to norad,
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didn't go up through the first air force. so when the first aircraft hit the trade centers and it was clear to norad and first air force that they needed to defend america's skies, they had no message to be able to reach down or even be able to know that the d.c. national guard was there in d.c. and was available. there was no clear authority to be able to reach down to us. so just as they couldn't reach down to us, we had no way to be able to reach up into them to get authorization to go fly. so there was a lot of confusion. as a young wing man, really kind of the most that i could do was stand there and be ready to be tasked as i watched my leadership in a very creative and ad hoc way to reach up to authority to be able to launch. >> how did you personally
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prepare prior to 9/11? >> i didn't. you know, because that was not one of our doctrinal tactics, there was no way to learn to go to war. my job was to set alerts. there were no rules of engagement. i hadn't even thought about, you know, what that kind of mission might be like on american soil. defensive counter, which is probably the closest that i had trained to is typically something that's planned for, it's in the air tasking order, it's something we might do to protect a base overseas but really wasn't something we had thought about regarding having to do on the good old u.s. and i had also never been trained to how do i scramble the aircraft? so i had never done a scramble
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start which is, to give you a little bit of perspective, when you start an f-16, especially before we had gps on the aircraft, and at that time we did not have gps, we had inertia units, which took at least 18 minutes to just get the gyroscopes spinning to be able to give us a navigational platform. so it would typically take about 20 minutes to start the jets, get the avionics systems going, go through all the pre-flight checks to make sure the systems were operating properly, program the computers in the aircraft. that's not even including the time to look at the forms and do the walk-around of the airplane and whatnot. so we usually planned about half an hour to 40 minutes from the time you walked out the door to the time that you actually took off. and as the new guy, i was very
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concerned -- i mean, i was going to do everything right, and i was going to do everything by the book, because attention to detail and ensuring that you execute perfectly is part of the fighter pilot credeed, and that was what i was learning to do. so what was demanded of us that morning was completely seat of the pants as far as i was concerned. >> explain the term "scramble the aircraft." >> a scramble start is where -- it's specifically towards how we execute the mission now, a scramble start is where once the horn goes off, you can run to the jet, start it expeditiously and be able to get airborne within a minimum set of minutes, and that's in single digits, not even in double digits. so it's a very quick reaction to some kind of external threat so that you have time to be able to get airborne and be able to turn that threat around before it gets towards whatever you're trying to protect. >> so the president of the
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united states is in florida, the vice president is at the white house, the transportation secretary is ordering all planes across the country to be grounded. and another plane, a third plane, hits the pentagon. where were you when all that happened? >> when it was clear that there was a threat to the d.c. area, which we immediately assumed once that second aircraft had hit the world trade center -- >> why did you assume that? >> because washington, d.c. is the heart of the united states. it's the nation's capitol. it's the center of the free world. so as ominous as those two aircraft hitting the world trade center were, it was very clear to us that it was -- we needed to get airborne to be able to protect washington, d.c. as i mentioned before, the challenge for us was how do we get authorization to be able to get airborne?
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national guard units have two separate chains of command. we have the federal chain of command, but in order for that federal chain of command which then mobilizes us into the active duty air force and the narrow specific lines that go up through the active air force and the secretary of defense and then the president, you have to be mobilized to be able to make that happen. our other chain of command, which is the standard chain of command is the state chain of command, the civilian. so we go up through the governor. well, the d.c. air national guard doesn't go to the mayor of washington, d.c., it actually goes up through the secretary of the army and ultimately to the president of the united states. so we were having to work our civilian chain of command to activate that to try and get permission to become airborne. as a young wingman, my job was to -- i mean, like i said, i was standing around waiting for someone to basically tell me
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what to do so that i could support what we were trying to be able to get airborne. so what i basically did was, i took our -- we had data transfer cartridges for the f-16, and think of it like a very large floppy disk or a large thumb drive, because there are so many avionics on the aircraft, whether or not that's weapons information, navigational information, et cetera that we are able to program before we ever get to the aircraft. so we can take this data cartridge and then plug it into the jet and turn it on and download the mission profile. all that navigation information, et cetera. so what i was doing while my leadership was trying to energize the chain of command upward to try to get authorization to launch, i was basically programming the jets with the data program cartridges. it's just based on what is in
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the d.c. area? where is the capitol? where is the national mall? are things critical to structure? where are all the little airports, things like that. >> so that's what you were doing. do you remember what you were thinking during that time period? so much going on. >> i was focused on expeditiously loading up those cartridges and then trying to free myself up so that i could then do whatever the next thing necessary was. >> do you remember if you had a moment that morning to kind of absorb everything that was happening? >> this doesn't -- this sounds counter-intuitive, but when the magnitude of the situation hit me, i really lost all emotion. i didn't have an emotional reaction at all.
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it was really much more focused on what are the things that i need to do to enable us to protect our capitol? what are the things that i need to do to facilitate us getting airborne? the most time that i had for reflection was when i finished up loading the data transfer cartridges, the dtcs, standing at the office counter and observing what leadership was doing and trying to anticipate what the next step might be so that i could be of more use. so we had lieutenant colonel phil thompson took over duties of supervisor flying previously. dan had been resident of our supervision, but phil thompson took over to free raisin up so we could prepare for what we anticipated, being able to get airborne.
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our wing commander, general whurley, came down and tried to get information, again trying to energize the chain of command. what is unique about our situation at andrews is that because andrews is also the home of air force i, we had established a relationship with the secret service in a near traffic control tower. because when air force i moves, the secret service owns the airfield so that they can provide better protection for the president. so we had established a relationship with them in order to be able to manage the impact to our daily flying activities. and so one of the things that was going on was that dan came, called the secret service, called the guys in the tower, folks he knew by a personal relationship to say, hey, we're here. we can help.
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have someone tell us what to do, and have general whirley address that relationship as well. also, in flying with the training we're in, when we train, we don't train with real bombs that have explosives on them. as a matter of fact, we either train with no weapons on board and we are able to simulate the actual weapons deployment, or we train with very small, concrete projectiles which can mimic the actual fall profile of real weapons. so we realistically had nothing that we would be able to do -- we would take off unarmed. so the other thing that we did, which was very out of the box, but realizing the seriousness of the situation, raisin called down to the bomb dump, which is
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located far away from any population on the base because that's where the things that go boom live, right? so if something happens, you want that very isolated. so the guys that live down there, they got no television, they got no radio. they're living in a world that to them it's just another beautiful, blue tuesday morning. then they get this phone call that says, hey. i want you to build up some real missiles. what are you talking about? do it. so raisin was energizing what he knew by anticipating what we needed to do. but that was going to take some time. >> where were you and what do you remember thinking when that other plane hit the pentagon? >> sickened that we weren't airborne first.
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and it simply increased the sense of urgency for the situation. >> then what happened? >> well, we had had three aircraft airborne earlier that morning for a training mission down at dare county, which is north carolina, and it was justa very basic bombing mission, basic surface attack. they were going to do some scraping with bullets as well, and one guy had gotten down to what we call bingo gas. it's a fuel that whatever you're doing you just need to get home, because that's the fuel you'll need to be able to get home. so he had been returning on his own when the towers were hit. and because he was coming back home and air traffic control knew that he was in an f-16, he was getting some very unusual queries from air traffic. hey, do you have any missiles on
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board? do you have any bombs on board? so he called back to the office desk where we were all standing around and talked to bob thompson who had taken over the supervising flying duties. hey, what's going on? don't worry about it, just come home. how much gas do you got? just come home and land. so that was puck haginson, and puck came in and he landed. and the two other guys that were still down on the range, dog called them and said, i need you to come home and buster, which means come home as fast as you possibly can. so they were coming home as quickly as possible, and they were also getting tracked by air traffic control. so when they landed, dog asked them, how much gas do you guys have, and one of them, billy huchison, had just enough gas to be able to take off. because they knew -- air traffic control knew based off radar signals that they had and the trans ponder signals, that they anticipated there was another aircraft. on dog told them, take off and
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look down the river. they think there is another one coming down the river. on billy did a sweep down the south and a sweep down the north and he landed. when he was taking off again when we were taxiing to get airborne. >> we talked with mary matalin who was with vice president cheney, examine sheand she
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basically said the vice president had the no kill orders for the crash on the world trade centers. did you get those orders? what was transpiring? >> once we finally got word -- actually, four of us. it was mark s is as srkssasa, asavil, we had a very quick briefing regarding, take off, how are we going to stay together? yust the just the bread examine butterand butter of how we would operate. on sav and i would take off. >> so two planes? >> yes, sav and i would take off. and when they had an a-9 missile on the aircraft, then they would take off. so sav and i would take off first and then they would wait however long they needed to until they got an a-9.
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>> were you prepared for that? were you prepared to shoot down a commercial passenger jet? >> we wouldn't be shooting it down. we would be ramming the aircraft. because we didn't have weapons on board to be able to shoot the airplane down. between -- both sav and i had 105 bellullets, lead-nosed. on is as we were putting on our flight gear in the life support shop, sav looked at me and said, i'll run the cockpit. and i had made the decision i would take the tail off the aircraft, because if you ran the cockpit, the debris field of the aircraft, it would still be moving forward, so it would be a forward and stand wide debris
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field. but i knew if i took off the tail of the aircraft that it would essentially go straight down so that the pattern of debris would be minimized. i mean, the people on flight 93 were heros, but they were going to die no matter what. and so my concern was, how do i minimize collateral damage on the ground and how do i keep it from going forward depending on where we might intercept the aircraft? >> explain a little bit more specifically how that operation potentially would have worked if that plane was still airborne and how you would have looked for united flight 93? >> well, we took off and we knew that there was one coming down the river. so, i mean, we ran down the sidewalk and we jumped in the aircraft, and it was funny because, again, like i said, i was the new guy and i was trained to do everything by the
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book, right, and this was so not by the book. we were improvising everything and making it up on the go based off of our experience and knowledge of tactics of, you know, weaponry and flying the aircraft and just what information we had been able to gather from the situation. but, you know, so i got down to my airplane and my first instinct was to look at the forms, and sav looked and he goes, lucky, what are you doing? get in the airplane, get it started. so he jumped in the airplane and got it started, and completely -- you know, i didn't go through any of the normal checks, it was just the bare bones to make sure this aircraft was safe, make sure it was flyable. but i distinctly remember sav taxiing. i just got my radios up and i'm yelling at my crew chief, you
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know, pull the chocks, and he pulls the chocks and i push my throttle throttle. the crew chief is is still running under the tail so that my gear will come up. there are safety pins that are all in the airplane, and so they're pulling all those safety pins as i'm taxiing to go do an immediate take-off. i didn't even are an initialertia navigation unit. i didn't have any of that set up. it was lucky it was a clear, blue day because we didn't are all of the avionics, they were not yet awake when we took off. glz what >> what time was this? >> to be honest, i don't know. i think it was sometime after 10:30. >> you said your emotions were in check. was your heart beating fast or
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did you have nervous energy, or was it a mission you knew you had to achieve? >> it wasn't on much that i kept my emotions in check, it was that they didn't even exist. they just weren't even there. but there was i go issignificant adrenaline, examie itand it really was yust, dear god, please don't let me screw up. >> so you get up in the air. what happened? explain a little more what you were looking for and how the events transpired over the next 90 minutes. >> we took off. we taxied out, got clearance to take off before we even got to the runway. sav took off. it was a roaring takeoff.
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i followed right after him, and i rejoined a loose route and then we went out to tactical and we headed to the northwest. we were talking with potomac and potomac was giving us vectors for where they thought or anticipated the threat might be. so we were looking on our radars, trying to dig out, did we get any low returns? >> did you see the pentagon in? >> yeah. >> what did you think? >> what did you think? >> it was surreal. it was totally surreal to see yust this-- just this billowing black smoke. we didn't get high. we were at about 3,000 feet. we never got above 3,000 feet, at least on that first weepsweep out because we needed to make sure we stayed low for the
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visual radars at that point. >> was the communication any better, were you getting clear signals as to what was required, examine what was happening, the big picture? >> no. not at that point in time. we knew what our mission was, and that was the singular focus, was the communication between me and sav to ensure that we had a comprehensive sweep of the air space so that nothing got by us, so that we were also visually looking out to see whether or not there was another airliner. we actually flew -- i don't remember how many nautical miles we got away from d.c. but we flew quite a bit down to the potomac, because the further we got away from d.c., the further we spread out a little
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bit because maybe he might change the access is of where-- of where he was coming in. but we said we need to go back over and fly over d.c. because we've clearly sanitized the area and ensured that he's not an immediate threat, that the aircraft flight 93 is not in the near vicinity and able to prosecute an attack at that point in time. on we need to get back and make sure that we can play the short goalie game now that we cleared out the air space. so when we returned back to d.c., that was when things began to, on one hand, settle down because we never -- flight 93 wasn't there. and as we discovered later, the passengers on that flight were truly heroes. but then we had to get into the business of making sure that all the aircraft got on the ground. because there were many small
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general aviation or small commercial business aircraft or whatnot that hadn't gotten word that the faa grounded everybody. and so there was still a lot of aviation going on there where we had to sanitize the air space, and of course there were also a tremendous number of first responders. so we needed to work with potomac to be able to make sure that anyone who was near the national capitol region was somebody who was supposed to be airborne. and if they weren't, then we were going to turn them away. >> i realize this is a total hypothetical, but you're in this situation, you're flying over washington, d.c., and potentially you have to bring down a plane maybe in the nation's capitol. in light of everything that was happening, did you give any thought as to how you would have done that if it was over the city? >> are you talking about, like, for the commercial airliner? >> the commercial jet liner or
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the passenger planes. you told me of the tool you had to bring down a plane, but if it's in washington, d.c. versus a more rural area, did yu give any thought as to how you would have done that? >> for a larger aircraft, again, it would simply be taking off the tail, which would be -- i would essentially be a kamikaze and ram my aircraft into the tail of the aircraft. and, you know, i gave some thought to would i have time to eject, but i would need to ensure that -- you only get one chance. you don't want to eject and then have missed, right? you have to be able to stick with it the whole way. when we came back and we continued to do the combat air patrol over d.c., and there were plenty of other aircraft airbornes that we did have to actually turn away. what we employed was we would thump them.
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we would fly in front of them and put out a flare or two -- a flare is -- you know what a flare is -- and so we would pump out a flare out of the aircraft and basically turn those other aircraft away. and we would also get on the victor frequency called guard and then tried to communicate with the aircraft that way. 121.5 is the frequency that all pilots know about, and it's called guard. it's universal, if you get in trouble or you need help, or you're not on the same frequency, if you go over to the guard frequency, then you should be able to talk to anybody. so we would also try to get them up on guard. >> so you were prepared to take your own life if necessary to bring down that plane? >> of course. >> let me ask you about flight 93 that crashed in shanksville. when did you get word about that? >> we got word not specifically
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that it had crashed but that it was -- i mean, it was no longer a threat. probably -- in my recollection, this is relatively fuzzy, but maybe an hour or so after we had gotten airborne. >> and yet there was still a lot of uncertainty. there were reports of bombs going off at the state department and other planes still in the air. so at that point, what were you doing, same mission? >> well, it was a mission to protect the national capitol region. so what had happened was, then, raisin and igore got the n-9s on the jets and then they took off. as we were airborne, then mark safaville and dan raisin worked with the air traffic controllers. this is such a testament to the professionalism and abilities of
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the air traffic controllers there in potomac, because their job is to keep airplanes separated and keep them on routes which are kind of like roads in the sky and sequence them certain miles or minutes apart from each other. and in less than five minutes, they learned how to speak military fighter pilot to us as if they were a combat controller. because saf and raisin said, all right, there is a navigation aid on the airport called a vortac. if you can imagine 1600 radials coming out of t you take those radials and then you take the mileage off those radials. so let's just call it bull's eye, all right?
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follow me on this, just call it bull's eye, and if there is someone who happened to be on that vortac, you call bull's eye and if you're 30 miles away, call 0930 for 30 and 9,000 feet. instantaneously, these guys got it. they adapted and changed how they had been trained to operate in sequencing airplanes and separating them to then learning how to bring airplanes together and intercept and to give us a vector on how to intercept something they might see. or, for example, if we had a radar hit an entity out there, they would say, hey, declare contact bull's eye, 00 for 225 feet. and potomac would then say, that's medivac flight 260, he's squawking 5263 and he's off fredericksburg and headed toward
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easton, or something like that. so they were able to very quickly start speaking military speak and then because we're now talking the same language, we could then discern and differentiate between who was the first responder, who was supposed to be airborne, who was helping the good guys and who were those unknowns out there that either they were just sort of bumbling around because they didn't get the news, and so they were just sort of unintentionally airborne because they didn't know any better, and who was potentially a threat. so the first pondersresponders, we would let them go on their way, examine and anybody else we would check out. folks down at langley took off, but they were rvectored over the atlantic ocean. because there might be more flights coming in over the atlantic. on they were over the atlantic, examine they were high, over 8,000 feet. then there were tankers over the ocean well. when the quints came over d.c.,
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they called potomac and said, hey, we got the quints airborne, we need to talk to the guys you have over d.c. so we began working with the quints and then they had air and fuel control over the atlantic, so that's how we were able to stay there four hours. the higher up you are, the more you canie with see with your
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radar. so they were basically looking over the atlantic and i had what's called an xcap where i had the east leg, sapphire had-- saf had the west leg and two more had the north and south leg. so we were pulling down the other aircraft and keeping down at d.c. >> were you being graded by your
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sprrz superior? >> i grounded, went to the bathroom, sent an e-mail to my parents to let them know i was alive, and then i was rounded up because there was authority that wanted to know what did we see, what did we do, kind of fill their situational awareness with what we had done that morning. so saf and i got scooped up to go brief a number of officers who were trying to gather information and then continue to respond to be able to protect our nation. which was -- as a first lieutenant, one of the first experiences that i had had. i had never seen so many stars in my life, and it was a dark room, and there were a few bright lights in our faces and they were asking pointed questions, and i was really glad that saf was doing most of answering and most of the talking. >> do you remember the questions
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they were asking, one or two of them? >> they were really just very focused on, you know, what did you see, and it was kind of what's the state of the caps at that point in time? so they just wanted to know, so what's going on with the xcap that we had put up? saf mentioned and told them about the tanker and told them about the quints that were in the high look, and it was really just basic information and there wasn't anything really earth shattering about what we were able to tell them. but when we walked out, because it was a really unusual day -- this is one moment of lefvity. saf said, i did ok, didn't i? yeah, saf, you did fine. we were then low on people and the base had shut down, so they weren't really letting anyone on base and they weren't letting anyone off base, so we didn't
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have that many pilots we could fly. so it was a very quick turn for us. i don't think we were on the ground for more than an hour. >> how are your emotions at that point? >> i was starting to -- the adrenaline was draining away, because after the initial intercept or attempt to take off and sweep of the northwest, i had brought down a lot of general aircraft, turning them away, getting them to land. and that had become somewhat routine. so it wasn't -- we weren't getting complacent, but the immediate threat had gone down. and at this time i was taking off with a full load of bullets and a knife. >> which are what? >> the a-9s are missiles, so i actually had missiles on board this time.
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>> did you have a chance to eat during the day? >> no. >> when you look back at that day, and you think about all that you went through, what goes through your mind? >> well, you know, it's interesting, because when i took off that day, we didn't know what would happen. we fully -- saf and i fully expected to intercept flight 93 and take it down. so the experience of the moment very different from the reflective experience. because reflecting on it ten years from now, i didn't change history. i didn't keep -- i didn't keep the pentagon from being hit. so the experience of the moment and did we actually change the course of events are kind of two different things.
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so how uyou resolve those is -- i don't know that you really do. a couple weeks later when we had gotten into the routine of the combat air patrols and whatnot, our commander jeff johnson, who is now our wing commander, just a tremendous, tremendous man,
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had gone to the pentagon for some briefings of what the d.c. guard had done, because it was really unprecedented. from september 11 to -- i think it was the next three weeks, the d.c. air national guard owned and controlled the cap, the combat air patrol. so when fighters flew in from langley or anywhere else, we actually owned the commanders, so we would commit fighters in the cap to go intercept and investigate if somebody else came in. which was a very unusual control structure. so he had gone to the pentagon as part of the lessons learned and the hot wash, which because, as you remember at the time, everyone was like, how could this happen?
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so there was this intense analysis and study of what were the failures that led up to that point and what was our response and how did we learn? he came back and he gathered all of us into the mission briefing room and told us the story of what someone had said to him when he was walking to the pentagon. because i saw him and i saw his flight suit and i saw his patches and started asking, so you're from the d.c. guard. and they had been in the pentagon when it was hit. and so they had been -- this individual had been part of the evacuation out of the pentagon. and for the folks that were coming out of the east side, they still had a child development center there, and the women were handing out babies because they couldn't carry enough babies out of the child development center. so they were just trying to evacuate these kids. if you can imagine, i'm a mother now myself, so to imagine what that must have been like as you're seeing these pentagon workers and service members, you
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know, rushing out of the pentagon and trying to get these children safe, to a place of safety, and the smoke was billowing up and the smell of the jet fuel and all the burning debris and burning flesh and the ashes falling down and nobody knew. there was no information for these individuals as they were evacuating the building. was there another one coming in? there had been two that had hit the world trade center, and then we flew over and full afterbursts, coming low, right up the pentagon as we head to look for flight 93. the individuals said -- in the crowd burst into cheers because they knew at that point that we were safe because we were airborne and we wouldn't let
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anybody else come and hurt them. >> you did how many missions after 9/11 after d.c.? >> i don't know, we stayed airborne. that day i went up for a sikdecond one and escorted the president up on air force i, and that second mission was very interesting because that was when we were given authority for freefire so that as -- typically for the rules of engagement, it's very, very strict. we are very deliberate about who has the authority to authorize whether you set the pickle and the mission comes off the jet. and in a freefire zone, that decision is very violent. so that authorization came out
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during the second one and lasted for some time thereafter. and i truly believe that it's a testament to the professionalism of the fighter pilots who manned the combat air control over d.c. that no one was pickle happy, if you will. i think we all understood how serious that charge was and what that kind of responsibility was, not only the charge to protect the national capitol region, to protect the capitol of the free world, but also the consequences if you didn't make the right call. so i really -- you know, it gave me tremendous faith in the quality of our servicemen from
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the combat controllers to the guys on the ground to the fighter pilots and the war fighters who were actually doing the deed. it gives me tremendous faith in their level of training and professionalism that no mistakes were made. >> so president george w. bush and air force ith. how unusual is it for you and other fighter jets to guide air force one into andrews? >> he is the president is constantly escorted and air force one is, there's always a level of safety. now, the types of escort and whatnot, that's, you know, that's up to the secret service and that's part of the -- part of their plan. it was unusual for us, though, because that's not a typical
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mission that we -- well, we had never done anything like that before. so it was -- it was fairly unusual but to be honest, that was anti-climactec compared to what had been asked of us during the first mission, because we had spent, you know, sufficient amount of time during the course of my first sortee and then guys had taken off after me so by the time that evening sortee came around, things were fairly quiet. everyone was on the ground except for the first responders, so it really wasn't -- really wasn't that busy when we were given the call. >> couple personal calls.
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you talked to your parents at what point on that day? >> on my way home. actually, it was after i got home. >> what did you tell them? what was your conversation like? >> well, my mother was really emotional. my dad, he's an old fighter pilot so he was asking more specific questions but they were both just glad that i was ok. >> that evening when you went to bed, do you remember what you were thinking? and when did your day end? >> i think i probably got home sometime after 11:00 p.m. and i just -- just fell into bed. >> you referred to yourself as lucky. obviously lucky penny. but who coined that? >> let me just tell you, you don't name yourself. when you become combat mission ready, the guys in your fighter squadron will name you and it's oftentimes it might be a playoff of your last name, like mine, though i tell everyone if you're not -- better lucky than good. if you're not good, you better be lucky. or it will be based off of some, you know, silly thing that you've done or act of buffoonery. the names should be witty.
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they should be humbling but it also has to be something that you would be, you know, proud of to stand up in front of your fellow fighter pilots and say hey, my name's lucky penny and i'll be your mission commander today. there's a lot of thought that goes into it. >> direct result of 9/11, u.s. involvement in iraq and later in afghanistan. you've been to iraq twice under what circumstances? >> well, the first time that i went to iraq was in 2003 as part of the initial operations of iraqi freedom, and we were part of the 410th expeditionary wing and we were scud hunters so -- >> which means what? >> we operated in western iraq, in the western desert, specifically to deter and suppress scuds that may hit our coalition partners or might be
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aimed towards israel. we also supported special operations forces who were doing movements throughout western iraq. >> as you look back ten years later on what happened, what you went through personally and what the country went through, and what the world went through, what do you think? >> well, these obviously are very personal opinions. as a member of our military, i truly believe that there are some things that are more important than me, which is why i'm willing to, if necessary, sacrifice myself for the things that we believe in as americans, our constitution, freedom, democracy, our rights, our way of life, and i know that there's a certain amount of risk that's inherent in that, not necessarily as being, you know, as being a service member, but democracy is necessarily open. that is one of the cultural values that we have.
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and i often wonder if -- if we have forsaken some of what it means to be american, some of what it means to be america, in our response to try to assure our citizens of security. there's no such thing as perfect security. i mean, like i said, i've got little girls and there's a line at finding nemo, if you never let anything happen to them then nothing's ever going to happen to them. so it's a kind of cute way to say that if we're going to be
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america and everything that america stands for, we can't as citizens expect our government to provide 100% security. now, i do believe that there are smart things that the government should do to mitigate risk, and is important for our national interests, but have we been overzealous and have we gone -- has the pendulum swung too far such that we are abdicating our value set in terms of what does it mean to be american, and our desire to be totally safe.
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the america that i know and that i believe in is resilient, is courageous, is strong and can rebuild and we saw that spirit after 9/11. but we also saw i think a desire from individuals, from people to want to be assured of perfect security, to know that they're going to be completely safe, and that they were willing to give up some of those rights, some of those freedoms, that openness, so that they could be perfectly secure and perfectly safe.
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and that isn't the courageous resilient america that i know. so as i think back to 9/11 and what it means to me personally, and how things have changed over the last decade and what's the america that i want my daughters to grow up in, what's the kind of american that i want them to be, i believe there's something special about us. i believe that america truly is the greatest nation on earth, and i want them to have an open-hearted pride in that, and that they're not afraid and that they will refuse to be cowed, and i understand there's some risk involved in that, and i'm not advocating that we be foolish and accept unnecessary risk. but my father and my grandfather, my mother, my
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grandmother, part of the greatest generations and i think we are, too. we should act like it. >> finally, your daughters are how old? >> they're 5 and 7 now. >> so when they say mommy, what was your role on 9/11, what do you tell them? >> well, they don't really know what 9/11 is just yet. >> as they get older, they'll ask questions. >> i'll say that i was there. and you know, if they're at the age and it's appropriate to talk more in depth regarding what my personal experience was, i think it's also important to talk about, i mean, you know, obviously it wasn't just about me and what i did in my aircraft. the tremendous response of the firefighters and the policemen and just strangers helping strangers in new york and here in d.c. i would want to use my story as
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a gateway to help them think about what everyone else went through on that day. this is in many ways our generation's pearl harbor, if you will. so i would want to give them some perspective on what was life like before, what was america like before. once upon a time, you could go once upon a time, you go through an airport and meet your family at the gate when they walked off the airplane. there are things in our daily lives that have fundamentally changed. i want to give them an idea of what america was like before and how did this change us and have them step outside of themselves and get into the shoes of other people. if my story can be a gateway , give them some perspective and help them identify more with our national experience international narrative and what it means to
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be americans. penny,major heather thanks for sharing your story with us. ney: thank you. >> interested in american history tv? visit our website at you can see our upcoming schedule and watch the recent program. american artifacts, road to the white house the wind, and lectures in history and more at c-span's american history tv is remembering september 11, 2001 through the stories of americans who were at the white house, the capital, the pentagon, and in the skies above washington dc. next, rear admiral david thos


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